BANGKOK — Thailand’s Education ministry has rolled out a project aimed at instilling entrepreneurship from an early age.
The move is already paying dividends, with some primary and high school students raking in monthly salaries from their businesses.
The Young Innovative Entrepreneur project has been running since 2010 and this year, it drew schools from all over Thailand to an exhibition in Pathum Thani province to showcase their business models and schemes.
In the process, the young aspiring entrepreneurs learn through trial and error that starting and operating a business goes beyond textbooks; they need hands-on experience, local wisdom and plenty of creativity to come up with a saleable product.
It also give the students an opportunity to learn how to set up their own businesses that allows them to be their own boss and be independent.
The brains behind the annual exhibition is Mr Wanpen Sujiputto, former director of the Education Ministry’s Bureau of Educational Innovation Development.
Primary and high school students from around 600 schools nationwide have taken part in this year’s project.
Since its inception, the project has helped hone the entrepreneurial skills of over 800 teachers, 200 teaching staff and 10,000 students.
Mr Wanpen said many of the students who participated in the project earn about 300 baht a month (S$12) from their products and small businesses.
“The best part of this project is that it can turn students who are not academically-inclined into people equipped with skills to make handicrafts while also having a stage to show off their achievements,” he said.
“They feel very proud when their works win awards at the provincial or national level. This project gives them a clear goal.”
The Young Innovative Entrepreneur project also serves as a rudder to help propel Thailand toward its goal of entering the “4.0” era based on a national strategy to transform the economy into one based on innovation, research and development, and higher technology.
In the exhibition, Ban Dong Samran School in Yasothon’s Kut Chum district finished runner-up in the contest for woven crafts carrying the label of Dek Dong (Children of the Forest).
The handicrafts produced by the students are a medley of traditional and modern arts. Their products range from mats and handbags to dust jackets showing off intricate woven patterns.
Ms Kaesorn Banchon, a teacher at the school credited with guiding her students to embrace local expertise when coming up with product ideas, said subjects like home economics can serve a crucial purpose but are largely overlooked by students these days.
Ms Kaesorn set up a course a few years ago teaching a small group of students how to make handicrafts. Their works soon caught the eyes of other teachers and were selected for display at several school events. From there, she advised her pupils to join the Young Innovative Entrepreneur project.
One of the handmade products even uses an indigenous Thai plant as part of its construction. Ms Kaesorn explained to her students how the plant is cultivated, selected, preserved and dyed before it is crafted into a product with a unique exterior and feel.
After senior students have become proficient in producing the crafts they pass on their knowledge to younger pupils and residents in their communities.
“Today, Ban Dong Samran School doubles as a learning centre for student craftsmanship. We are also a model school — at least six other schools have learned handicraft production from us. Our students’ products are also certified by the Industry Ministry,” Ms Kaesorn said.
In Mae Fah Luang district located in Chiang Rai province, Ban Huai Rai Samakee School has taken part in the project since 2010 with its coffee and bakery products sold under the Mon Fah Luang brand.
The school products won first prize in this year’s competition.
“Many of our former students who attended the project were offered jobs in the tourism industry, such as in hotels and restaurants. Some started their own coffee shops,” said school director Suppachoke Piyasan.
“Besides academic knowledge, we also focus on building a career path for our students by teaching them vocational skills,” he said.
Fifty years ago, Ban Huai Rai Samakee School was attended by highlanders. It was run by the border patrol police deployed to maintain security along the fringes of the northern border. The place was later upgraded to official school status under the Doi Tung Development Project.
Mr Suppachoke said the school zeroed in on home economics and the agricultural industry. It has acquired a level of expertise thanks to the supervision of lecturers from provincial vocational institutes including Chiang Rai Agriculture and Technology College and the Industrial and Community Education College.
One student said Mon Fah Luang coffee was designed under the concept, “More Than Coffee, An Art of Living”.
Students handle all parts of the production process including “latte art” — producing an artistic pattern and design on the surface of steamed milk froth.
The school opened its own coffee shop where students divide the labour fairly and take turns manning the business. This gives then on-the-job training in areas such as supervising others and handling delivery services.
“Revenue from the coffee shop is split up: One portion goes to the students rostered to work and the rest is deposited in a school fund to finance the coffee shop project,” Mr Suppachoke said.
Also in Chiang Rai, students at another school spend time after class embroidering neckties, bags and traditional outfits to create limited-edition lines of products under the O-Yi brand. The name in local dialect means “beloved hometown”.
Most students at Ban Doi Chang School in Mae Suai district are highlanders from various ethnic minority groups. The highland embroidery makes the crafts one-of-a-kind products.
In Loei province in north-eastern Thailand, Ta Khon Co Ltd was registered as a commercial entity as part of a project dubbed “Thinkable, Practicable and Saleable” run by students of Si Song Rak Wittaya School in Dan Sai district. The school also entered the young innovative entrepreneur project this year.
Popular products, sold under the Ngam Jang Loei brand, include souvenirs hand-crafted and inspired by the Phi Ta Khon festival, a fixture on the tourism calendar. The “ghost” festival is the province’s traditional event where men dress up as ghosts by donning masks made from wicker utensils painted in vibrant colours.
Mr Araya Kruahong, a student at Si Song Rak Wittaya School, serves as the company president. He said every product has a story behind it, with the students using art to bring the festival and its history to life. Each product carries a small tag explaining about the festival in Thai and English, seen as a value-added marketing flourish.
The company reports brisk sales and credits much of its success to Mr Apirak Promraksa, a teacher skilled in wood- and glass-carving for more than 15 years.
Aside from the knowledge gained in the classroom about business strategies, the students learn about the value of perseverance and honest business practices. BANGKOK POST